By Nathan Kouri
In anticipation of Bijou After Hours' upcoming virtual screening of In Fabric on the weekend of October 17th, we look back at Peter Strickland's second feature.
Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio would make a good “sound ethics” double bill with The Conversation, though its characters’ transgressions and the questions they raise are more abstract. The film shows the psychological erosion of a soundman (Toby Jones) during the post-production of a gruesome giallo. The figurative violence of his work, though it doesn’t physically hurt anyone, makes him the helpless accomplice to a system of sexist exploitation. Strickland is a filmmaker who understands the power of suggestion and, particularly, the influence film sound has on the imagination. Berberian Sound Studio creates an evocative mental space out of hazy, dark images accompanied by clear, precise sounds.
Sound theorist Jay Beck’s reading of Brian de Palma’s Blow Out as a film that perpetuates the false connection between sound and image (because it implies that a “real” scream is the only sound that can fit the image of a fictional scream), is even more relevant in Berberian Sound Studio. Strickland’s film could be read as a critique of this idea and the consequences of its application since the men making the giallo are under the assumption that pain has to be inflicted on actresses in order for them to portray pain.
On the other hand, though Berberian Sound Studio ridicules and critiques misogyny, it still finds these misogynists more interesting than the women themselves. It focuses almost exclusively on the mental toll of a man trapped in the lower ranks of an allegorical patriarchy, who cares about women in a general sense but not really any woman in particular. He and the film only have a vague idea of how physical, psychological, and audiovisual exploitation affects the women around him. With no substantial roles for women that might give the audience a peek at an alternative point-of-view, the film presents a problem but no solution.